The plethora of graded stakes at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Derby weekend took on added importance this year as it offered to the uninitiated an opportunity to get test runs over a main track and turf course that will serve as host site of the 2018 Breeders' Cup World Championships on November 2-3.
Unruffled by the rough trip that resulted in his colt Mendelssohn's last-place finish in the Kentucky Derby (G1), trainer Aidan O'Brien said after the race that the Scat Daddy half-brother to four-time champion mare Beholder would be aimed toward a return trip to Churchill Downs this fall.
"He just got knocked over coming out of the gate and then he got knocked over again going into the first bend, but he'll be fine," O'Brien said. "He was never used to getting that much kickback. It's a totally different experience, you know, so, we'll be fine. We'll take him home and give him a break and come back. We'll look forward to the Classic (G1) with him."
American Gal, third as the favorite in the 2016 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) at Santa Anita, captured the Humana Distaff (G1) by two lengths on Saturday in her first try at Churchill, negotiating the same seven-furlong distance over which the Filly & Mare Sprint (G1) will be run.
The connections of other weekend stakes winners that already had experience racing under the Twin Spires are looking ahead to the fall. One is trainer Ben Colebrook, who saddled Limousine Liberal to a second consecutive win in the seven-furlong Churchill Downs (G2), his sixth win in eight tries over the track.
"We're going to try to work backwards from the Breeders' Cup here," Colebrook said. "Obviously he's got home court advantage, so they're going to have to run to beat him."
Limousine Liberal would obviously point toward the six-furlong Sprint (G1). The six-year-old son of Successful Appeal won the 2017 Aristides (G3) over the same trip and could target that race again next month.
Other logical contenders for the Breeders' Cup in the fall are Distaff (G1) probables Monomoy Girl, the Kentucky Oaks (G1) winner, and Salty, who ran first in the La Troienne (G1); Turf Sprint (G1) candidate Will Call, who captured the Twin Spires Turf Sprint (G3) at five furlongs; and Filly & Mare Turf (G1) contender Proctor's Ledge, who pulled out the win in the Churchill Distaff Turf Mile (G2).